Social inclusion increases with time for zero-tillage wheat in the Eastern Indo-Gangetic Plains
Sustainable intensification (SI) approaches to agricultural development are urgently needed to meet the growing demand for crop staples while protecting ecosystem services and environmental quality. However, SI initiatives have been criticized for neglecting social welfare outcomes. A recent review found that better-off farmers benefitted disproportionately from SI and highlighted the dearth of studies assessing the equity of outcomes. In this study, we explore the social inclusiveness of zero-tillage (ZT) wheat adoption in Bihar, India. ZT is a proven SI technology for enhancing wheat productivity while boosting profitability and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural machinery in the densely populated Indo-Gangetic Plains. With an average landholding size of 0.39 ha, most farmers in Bihar depend on custom-hiring services to access the technology. While service provision models should foster inclusive growth by reducing financial barriers to technology adoption, early evidence suggested that smallholders remained at a disadvantage. Building on this previous research, we use a panel dataset from 961 wheat-growing households that spans a six-year period to analyze ZT adoption dynamics over time while accounting for the role of social networks and access to service provision. Using a heckprobit approach to correct for non-exposure bias, we compare determinants of ZT awareness and use in 2012 and 2015. We apply a multinomial logit model to identify determinants of early adoption, recent adoption, non-adoption, and dis-adoption. Furthermore, we explore the quality of ZT services as an additional dimension of socially-inclusive technology access. We find that the strong initial scale bias in ZT use declined substantially as awareness of the technology increased and the service economy expanded. Land fragmentation replaced total landholding size as a significant adoption determinant, which also affected the quality of ZT services received. Hence, farmers with small but contiguous landholdings appear to have gained a significant degree of access over time. We conclude that early-stage assessments of SI may be misleading, and that private sector-based service provision can contribute to socially inclusive development outcomes as markets mature.